Posts Tagged ‘ Israel ’

Why Palestine Won Big at the U.N.

As Reported by TIME

An instructive week after Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip tested Israel on the battlefield, the pacifist politicians who govern the West Bank notched a significant diplomatic win without much of a fight at all. Just before 5 p.m. New York time, the U.N. General Assembly voted 138 to 9 to bring Palestine aboard as a “nonmember state.” Another 41 nations abstained. Assured of passage by a whopping majority, Israel and the U.S. noted their objections mildly and mostly for the record, their effort to limit the fallout for the Jewish state itself limited in the wake of Gaza.

The status of “nonmember state” — emphasis on the “state” puts Palestine on the same level of diplomatic recognition as the Vatican, which is technically a sovereign entity. The Holy See has its own ambassadors but, for a few, may be better known for its busy post office off St. Peter’s Square, where tourists queue for what quiet thrills are afforded by a Vatican stamp canceled with the Pope’s postmark.

Palestine already has post offices. The particular marker of sovereignty it sought from the U.N. is even more bureaucratic: access to international organizations, especially the International Criminal Court at the Hague. Experts on international law say that, armed with the mass diplomatic recognition of the 150 or so nations it counts as supporters, Palestine will be in a position to bring cases against Israel, which has occupied the land defined as Palestine — the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — since 1967.

The ICC, as it’s known, is on record as inclined to regard Israel’s more than 100 residential settlements on the West Bank as a crime of war. (The Jewish state pulled its settlers and soldiers out of Gaza in 2005 and argues that it no longer qualifies as its “occupier” under international law. Critics argue otherwise.) The physical presence of the settlements in other words would give Palestine a ready-made case to drag Israel before the court — or to threaten dragging it before the court. In the dynamics of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the real power lies in the threat. But in his last U.N. address, in September, Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas began to lay the foundation for charges based not on the settlements but on the violent behavior of some individual settlers, who attack Palestinian neighbors and vandalize property and mosques. Settler attacks have skyrocketed in the past two years, according to U.N. monitors, and now account for the majority of the political violence on the West Bank, despite the lingering popular impression of Palestinian terrorism dating back decades. On the West Bank, at least, the reality has changed.

“If you were in my place, what would you do?” Abbas asked TIME in a recent interview. “We will not use force against the settlers. I can use the court, but it’s better for the Israelis not to push us to go to the court. They should put an end to these acts committed by the settlers.” His address to the General Assembly in advance of the vote on Thursday made the stakes plain enough: Abbas blasted Israel for “the perpetration of war crimes” and “its contention that it is above international law.”

Abbas’ effort actually got an unlikely boost from Israel’s eight-day offensive in Gaza. Operation Pillar of Defense focused on attacking Hamas, the militant Islamist group that has governed Gaza since 2007. Hamas, and more radical groups also operating in Gaza, lost scores of fighters and rocket launchers to Israeli air strikes. But by standing up to overwhelming Israeli military power for more than a week — and sending missiles toward major cities previously left untouched — the militants stirred a defiant pride and solidarity across the Palestinian community.

“The armed resistance of Hamas in Gaza gave the people hope and the impressions that this is the only way to fight against the ongoing occupation,” Majed Ladadwah, 46, told TIME 0n a Ramallah street, in the West Bank. “I can’t say they won,” said Ladadwah, speaking before Thursday’s balloting, “but they surely gained a lot of points for Hamas in the streets of Palestine.”

That logic was pointed out to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she visited Jerusalem to coax him toward a cease-fire. In the days that followed, Netanyahu’s government stopped threatening to punish Abbas for going to the U.N., a move Israel has called a threat to the peace process, which has been stalled for at least four years.

At the same time, European nations rallied around Abbas, intent on shoring up a leader who is secular, moderate — and already at political risk for cooperating with Israel to suppress armed resistance even before Gaza seized the world’s attention. Many of the “marquee” countries of Western Europe that Netanyahu had hoped to vote against Palestine statehood, like France, instead lined up behind Abbas. Others, including Britain, abstained, after seeking assurances that Palestine will not to go the ICC, or that negotiations with Israel will resume. Abbas has already promised the latter. Thursday morning brought news that Israel had lost Germany, a stalwart ally in the wake of the Holocaust, to the abstention column. “If there is a poor turnout, a poor vote, the radicals gain,” India’s U.N. Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri told reporters.

For their part, Palestinians overwhelmingly back the measure, despite an assortment of disappointments with Abbas — for wasting a year trying to get full U.N. membership in 2011 and for not visiting Gaza during the fighting, as foreign diplomats did. “We are for the U.N. bid because we anticipate this will help us legally to pursue our struggles and gain our rights,” said Ladadwah, the bank employee who spoke admiringly of Hamas’ stand in Gaza. Hamas itself said it backs the diplomatic effort, as do other factions.

“This is called resistance, whether armed resistance or peaceful resistance,” said Mahmoud Khames, 34, an unemployed West Bank resident, in advance of the vote. “It’s not a soccer match that someone has to win. Resistance is a matter of freeing one’s self and his people from the Israeli occupation.”

In downtown Ramallah, the crowd watching on an outdoor TV screen on Thursday night was large and festive despite the late November chill. Celebratory gunfire — fired by exultant uniformed police and soldiers — rent the night as the vote came in just before midnight local time. “I expect many things from this but the most important is the reconciliation of the two factions, Hamas and Fatah,” said Mohammad Abdel Moute, 40, a government employee who lives in a local refugee camp. “And now hopefully we’ll be able to address the world with our problems, and hopefully the world will be able to help us in obtaining our rights, to be able to live like normal human beings.” Nearby, Layla Jammal, 70, praised the strategy of putting the question of statehood to the General Assembly instead of to the U.N. Security Council, where the U.S. routinely vetoes measures opposed by Israel.

“We heard threats from Netanyahu this evening before the voting, saying that a Palestinian state at the U.N. is unilateral, one-sided,” Jammal said. “And we laugh, because the wall that they built is one-sided! They didn’t ask us. From here it makes us it makes us a state against another state.”

— With reporting by Rami Nazzal / Rama

Israel keeps pounding Gaza by air, says it intercepted missile fired by Hamas at Tel Aviv

By Karin Brulliard and Abigail Hauslohner for The Washington Post

Israel’s four-day-old air offensive in the Gaza Strip expanded to target Hamas government buildings on Saturday and Palestinian militants continued firing a torrent of rockets at civilian areas in southern Israel as both sides stepped up diplomatic efforts to win support.

Israeli airstrikes over Gaza accelerated to nearly 200 early in the day, including one hit that reduced the offices of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to a smoldering concrete heap. That strike, along with others on a police headquarters and smuggling tunnels along the strip’s southern border with Egypt, raised questions about whether Israel had broadened its mission to including toppling the Hamas government that rules the coastal strip.

Just before sundown, Hamas said it had fired an Iranian-made Fajr-5 rocket at Tel Aviv, and air raid sirens sounded in that city for the third day in a row. The Israeli military said its newly deployed missile defense battery intercepted the rocket before it landed in the populous coastal city.

Even as airstrikes pounded the area Saturday morning, the foreign minister of Tunisia’s Islamist-led government, Rafik Abdessalem, arrived in Gaza with a delegation, underscoring Hamas’s newfound credibility in a region dramatically altered by the Arab Spring. Abdessalem expressed outrage at what he called Israeli “aggression” and pledged to unite with other Arab countries to end the conflict.

In Cairo, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, whose prime minister visited Gaza on Friday, held meetings with Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani — both Hamas supporters — to discuss what Morsi and other regional leaders have promised will be a more robust response to Israel’s actions than during past conflicts. By Saturday night, rumors of Morsi, Erdogan and Hamas chairman Khaled Meshal hashing out a cease-fire plan were swirling but unconfirmed.

Also in Cairo, the Arab League held an emergency meeting of foreign ministers to discuss a response to the conflict. Many participants called for Arab assistance to the Palestinians and a “reconsideration” of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. But it was unclear if the usually ineffectual league would deliver decisive action by the end of its summit.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, took his country’s case to European leaders. In conversations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the prime ministers of Italy, Greece and the Czech Republic, Netanyahu argued that “no country in the world would agree to a situation in which its population lives under a constant missile threat,” according to an Israeli government statement. The government announced that it was launching a special operations center for public diplomacy, centered on “the unified message that Israel is under fire.”

The White House reiterated its support for the Israeli operation, which the military says is intended to stop rocket fire that has escalated in the four years since Israel last invaded Gaza to stunt attacks by Hamas, an Islamist movement that Israel and the United States consider a terrorist group.

“Israelis have endured far too much of a threat from these rockets for far too long,” Ben Rhodes, a deputy U.S. national security adviser, told reporters traveling with President Obama to Asia. Rhodes declined to comment on the Israelis’ choice of targets, but he said White House officials “always underscore the importance of avoiding civilian casualties.”

The death toll in Gaza rose to 45 by Saturday evening, Health Ministry officials said. Three Israelis have been killed by rocket fire from Gaza since the operation began. An Israeli military spokesman said about 130 rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel on Saturday, 30 of which were intercepted by a missile defense system known as Iron Dome.

Israel made preparations this week for a possible ground invasion, but there were no further signs of one coming on Saturday.

Israel: No shift in mission

The Israeli airstrikes, which continued to target rocket-launching sites and weapons depots, slowed throughout the day, even as Israel appeared to be channeling new efforts toward Hamas civilian institutions. Capt. Eytan Buchman, an Israeli military spokesman, said the strikes were “part of our overarching goal of toppling Hamas’s command and control capabilities” and did not mark a shift in mission.

Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister, was apparently not at his office when it was hit.

According to the newspaper Haaretz, Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai said the “goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages.”

That is how it felt to Hossam and Sanaa al-Dadah, two teachers who had the misfortune of living next door to a house the Israeli military said belonged to a Hamas commander.

At 6 a.m., the family’s windows shattered and their walls burst open. The adjacent house, in the Jabaliya refugee camp, had been demolished in an airstrike, and suddenly theirs was ruined, too.

In the terrifying moments that followed, Hossam al-Dadah, 50, frantically dug his five children out of the rubble, and a few hours later, they had been taken away to their grandparents’ home. But a dust-caked Sanaa, 40, rushed from room to room, crying and gathering her children’s clothing, school bags and dolls and placing them on a sheet.

Israel says Hamas operates in populated areas to use civilians as human shields, and it has dropped thousands of leaflets over Gaza warning civilians to stay away from Hamas operatives. Sanaa said she never got the message.

“Where are we going to go?” she said again and again. “The Israelis are responsible. They are the enemy of God. What did we do? Did we carry any missiles? Did we launch any rockets?”

Outside the house, children played insouciantly in rubble and scorched cars. Rami Mukayed, a 12-year-old in gray trousers, said he reserved his fear for darkness.

“At night, come see me, I’m panicked,” he said. “I play in the morning. I hide in the evening.”

Effect on peace process

In a speech in Cairo, Erdogan said the Gaza conflict called for a new era of Egyptian-Turkish cooperation.

“If Turkey and Egypt unite, everybody will be singing of peace in the region,” he said. “And if we stick together, the region will no longer be dominated by crying and weeping.”

Speakers at the Arab League meeting made the same argument.

“We can no longer accept empty meetings and meaningless resolutions,” said Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby, addressing the assembly at the start of the meeting. He urged Arab states to adopt a “strict stance” on the conflict.

Issandr El Amrani, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations who heads a blog called the Arabist, said the Gaza standoff has presented the new Arab Spring governments and other regional heavyweights an opportunity to reconsider their position on Israel and the peace process in a series of talks that could have long-term regional implications.

For years, the Arab League has floated a proposal for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal that Israel never took seriously, Amrani said. Arab states might now choose to drop that proposal and adopt more aggressive approaches — Egypt could revise the terms of its peace treaty with Israel; Arab states might consider providing covert aid to Hamas; and others will amplify the pressure on Israel through diplomatic corridors, he said.

By Saturday night, despite mounting rhetorical and symbolic support to Gaza’s Hamas leadership, the Arab ministers’ meeting had announced plans to send a delegation to Gaza but had stopped short of pledging immediate material support to Hamas.

“I’ve seen a lot of talk about doing something and how there’s a collective Arab responsibility to act,” Amrani said, “but no one has suggested anything concrete.”

A Bronx Tale

By Ted Regencia and Lindsay Minerva for Tablet Mag

Near the corner of Westchester Avenue and Pugsley Street in Parkchester, just off the elevated tracks of the No. 6 train, Yaakov Wayne Baumann stood outside a graffiti-covered storefront on a chilly Saturday morning. Suited up in a black overcoat with a matching wide-brimmed black fedora, the thickly bearded 42-year-old chatted with elderly congregants as they entered the building for Shabbat service.

The only unusual detail: This synagogue is a mosque.

Or rather, it’s housed inside a mosque. That’s right: Members of the Chabad of East Bronx, an ultra-Orthodox synagogue, worship in the Islamic Cultural Center of North America, which is home to the Al-Iman mosque.

“People have a misconception that Muslims hate Jews,” said Baumann. “But here is an example of them working with us.”

Indeed, though conventionally viewed as adversaries both here and abroad, the Jews and Muslims of the Bronx have been propelled into an unlikely bond by a demographic shift. The borough was once home to an estimated 630,000 Jews, but by 2002 that number had dropped to 45,100, according to a study by the Jewish Community Relations Council. At the same time, the Muslim population has been increasing. In Parkchester alone, there are currently five mosques, including Masjid Al-Iman.

“Nowhere in the world would Jews and Muslims be meeting under the same roof,” said Patricia Tomasulo, the Catholic Democratic precinct captain and Parkchester community organizer, who first introduced the leaders of the synagogue and mosque to each other. “It’s so unique.”

The relationship started years ago, when the Young Israel Congregation, then located on Virginia Avenue in Parkchester, was running clothing drives for needy families, according to Leon Bleckman, now 78, who was at the time the treasurer of the congregation. One of the recipients was Sheikh Moussa Drammeh, the founder of the Al-Iman Mosque, who was collecting donations for his congregants—many of whom are immigrants from Africa. The 49-year-old imam is an immigrant from Gambia in West Africa who came to the United States in 1986. After a year in Harlem, he moved to Parkchester, where he eventually founded the Muslim center and later established an Islamic grade school. Through that initial meeting, a rapport developed between the two houses of worship, and the synagogue continued to donate to the Islamic center, among other organizations.

But in 2003, after years of declining membership, Young Israel was forced to sell its building at 1375 Virginia Ave., according to a database maintained by Yeshiva University, which keeps historical records of synagogues. Before the closing, non-religious items were given away; in fact, among the beneficiaries was none other than Drammeh, who took some chairs and tables for his center.

Meanwhile, Bleckman and the remaining members moved to a nearby storefront location, renting it for $2,000 a month including utilities. With mostly elderly congregants, Young Israel struggled to survive financially and, at the end of 2007, was forced to close for good. The remaining congregants were left without a place to pray. During the synagogue’s farewell service, four young men from the Chabad Lubavitch world headquarters in Crown Heights showed up. Three months earlier, Bleckman, then chairman of the synagogue’s emergency fund, had appealed for help from the Chabad.

“The boys from the Chabad said they came to save us,” said Bleckman. “We were crying.”

At this point, Chabad took over the congregational reins from Young Israel, with members officially adopting the new name Chabad of East Bronx. Still, for the next six to seven weeks, Bleckman said they could not even hold a service because they had nowhere to hold it.

When Drammeh learned of their plight, he immediately volunteered to accommodate them at the Muslim center at 2006 Westchester Ave.—for free.

“They don’t pay anything, because these are old folks whose income are very limited now,” said Drammeh, adding that he felt it was his turn to help the people who had once helped him and his community. “Not every Muslim likes us, because not every Muslim believes that Muslims and Jews should be like this,” Drammeh said, referring to the shared space. But “there’s no reason why we should hate each other, why we cannot be families.” Drammeh in particular admires the dedication of the Chabad rabbis, who walked 15 miles from Brooklyn every Saturday to run prayer services for the small Parkchester community.

For the first six months, congregants held Friday night Sabbath services inside Drammeh’s cramped office. As more people began joining the congregation, Drammeh offered them a bigger room where they could set up a makeshift shul. (When it’s not in use, students from the Islamic school use it as their classroom.) Inside the synagogue, a worn, beige cotton curtain separates the men and women who attend the service. A solitary chandelier hangs just above the black wooden arc that holds the borrowed Torah, which is brought weekly from the Chabad headquarters. A large table covered with prayer books stands in the center, and a picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe is displayed prominently on a nearby wall. During Shabbat, when Jewish congregants are strictly prohibited from working, they have to rely on the Muslim workers at the center or on Drammeh to do simple chores such as turning on the light and switching on the heater.

At first, it did not make sense, said Hana Kabakow, wife of Rabbi Meir Kabakow. “I was surprised,” said the 26-year-old congregant who was born and raised in Israel. “But when I came here I understood.” The Kabakows have been coming to the service from Brooklyn for the last two years.

Harriet Miller, another congregant, said she appreciated the center’s accommodating the synagogue. “They are very sweet people,” said the 79-year-old Bronx native and long-time resident of Parkchester, who added that she welcomes the new Muslim immigrants in her neighborhood: “We were not brought up to hate.”

Drammeh also understands the importance of teaching tolerance more broadly, and for turning the school—which was itself founded at the nearby St. Helena Catholic Church on, of all days, Sept. 11, 2001—into a model of sorts for religious tolerance in New York.

“We’re not as divided as the media portrays us to be,” Drammeh said. “Almost 90 percent of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian teachings are the same.”

His latest project involves introducing fifth-grade Jewish and Islamic school students to each other’s religious traditions. Other participants of the program, now in its sixth year, include the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan, the Al Ihsan Academy of Queens, and the Kinneret Day School of Riverdale. At the end of the program, students organize an exhibit that shows family artifacts of their respective cultures and religion. The principal of the Islamic school, who is also Sheik Drammeh’s wife, said that even after the program ended, the participants became “fast friends” and would visit each other’s homes.

“They would have birthday parties together,” Shireena Drammeh said. “When someone invites you to their house, I mean, that says it all right there and then.”

While the Jewish congregants are thankful for their new home, they hope that one day they can rebuild their own synagogue. That day may be far off: Even now that they have space to worship, they still struggle to operate. They don’t have proper heating inside, and the portable working heater could not reach the separate area where the elderly women are seated, forcing them to wear their jackets during the entire service. Congregants are appealing for financial support from the Jewish community and other congregations.

But Leon Bleckman and others say they now also have loftier goals, including reviving the Jewish presence in the neighborhood and reaffirming the positive relationship with their Muslim friends. “We are able to co-exist together side by side in the same building,” said Assistant Rabbi Avi Friedman, 42. “That’s sort of like a taste of the future world to come—the messianic future where all people live in peace.”

Ted Regencia is a digital media student at the Columbia Journalism School. His Twitter feed is at @tedregencia. Lindsay Minerva, a digital media student at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, is an intern at Newsweek. Her Twitter feed is at @lindsayminerva.


Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- A story like this illustrates the good in all of us. A few months ago, we highlighted an article on Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee where Christians in that part of the US welcomed a Muslim community that was undergoing construction of their mosque nearby. Now this kind deed is being passed forward to another flock of faithful when Muslims in New York are offering a helping hand to Jewish members of their community. This is the type of love for one another God of all religions wants and appreciates. May God bless them all.

U.S. Pressure on Mubarak Opens a Rift With Arab Allies

Adam Entous, Julian E. Barnes, and Jay Solomon for The Wall Street Journal

President Barack Obama’s attempt to abruptly push aside Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in favor of a transition government has sparked a rift with key Arab allies Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, which fear the U.S. is opening the door for Islamist groups to gain influence and destabilize the region.

Vying to influence the outcome of events, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. have sent public and private messages of solidarity to Mr. Mubarak and his vice president, longtime intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, diplomats said. The messages amount to support for the president and Mr. Suleiman to oversee the transition and to ensure that Islamists can’t fill any possible power vacuum.

The support from Arab states has provided a measure of comfort to Mr. Mubarak, who announced he wouldn’t take part in September’s election. It may in part explain why the Egyptian president rebuffed Mr. Obama’s call for an immediate transition that includes the opposition.

The backlash shows how the turmoil in Egypt is rapidly reshaping U.S. policy in the region. In deciding to set itself against Mr. Mubarak, a U.S. ally for decades, the United States is now facing the disquiet of other friendly Arab governments, who have long provided support for American policy goals. Meanwhile, Islamists in the region, including Hamas and Hezbollah, believe they are on the ascent as U.S. allies falter.

Such a scenario was one that defenders of the Middle East’s status quo warned was possible, and shows how Mr. Obama’s options were all, in some sense, unpalatable. The president was criticized early in the unrest for not clearly favoring antigovernment protesters. Now, having done so, he might have alienated key regional U.S. partners in the fight against al Qaeda and Iran. People familiar with the situation said Israel, the United States’ closest ally, has privately echoed Arab concerns about a U.S. push to kick out Mr. Mubarak, and worries Washington underestimates domestic Egyptian support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties.

It is unclear how much sway the Saudis have with Mr. Mubarak’s regime in Cairo, given that the extent of its financial aid to Egypt isn’t known. The United States gives Cairo about $2 billion a year. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are major trading partners, and experts say Saudi and Egyptian intelligence services have especially close ties.

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud has harshly criticized Egyptian protesters in a statement carried by the Saudi state news agency, describing them as “infiltrators” bent on destabilizing Egypt and the region, accusing them of “malicious sedition.”

“You don’t need to read between the lines too much to see [the Saudis] are in favor of stability,” said Richard Fontaine, an analyst with the Center for New American Security and a former adviser to Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Senior officials from the U.A.E., another key regional ally, have said in recent days that the unraveling of Mr. Mubarak’s government threatens to provide breathing room for Islamic extremists and Tehran. Egyptian security forces have been among the most aggressive in seeking to combat Hamas and Hezbollah, Palestinian and Lebanese militant groups that receive their arms from Iran and Syria.

“What hurts men and women as well as the leadership in Egypt hurts us all, and our standing with Egypt is an urgent need,” U.A.E. Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan said on a visit to Iraq this week. “But our disapproval is of certain parties who might try to exploit the situation with an external agenda.”

Another Arab official from a government aligned with Washington said the Obama administration seems to be humiliating Mr. Mubarak, despite his close cooperation over the years. This could lessen the willingness of Arab states to cooperate with Washington in the future, said the official.

“[The Saudis] are at odds with the U.S. position, publicly pushing Mubarak out. And frankly so are we—this isn’t how you handle issues in region,” said the Arab official. “Egypt needs to be treated with respect.”

Mr. Obama took a calculated risk by aligning himself this week with the opposition, which includes the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, a group banned by Cairo and long shunned by Washington because of concerns about its ties to Islamist extremism.

U.S. officials acknowledge that Mr. Obama’s decision to turn on Mr. Mubarak has raised ire in Arab states, which fear the United States could turn up the pressure on them next.

The perception among key U.S. allies in the region is that the U.S. “threw Mubarak under the bus,” a senior U.S. official said. “It is fair to say there is definitely concern.”

Another U.S. official said the Obama administration understood Arab concerns that Islamists might try to take advantage of the Egyptian elections to win power, but said Arab states nonetheless needed to revamp their sclerotic political systems. Officials are reassessing the extent it could engage with Muslim Brotherhood.

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said what really matters is the “voices of the Egyptian people.”

Anthony Cordesman, an influential defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, played down the impact of outside influences on Mr. Mubarak, whether Saudi or U.S. Mr. Obama, he added, was “one voice among many” and argued that domestic considerations were the biggest factor for the regime in figuring out what to do next.

White House officials spent Thursday working on new language the U.S. president might use to make his demands on Mr. Mubarak more forceful, according to outside advisers. Much of the administration’s attention was on the treatment of journalists in Cairo. U.S. officials suspect regime element might have been behind the attacks.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Mr. Mubarak to “immediately” begin talks with opposition leaders on handing over power to a transitional government. “I urge the government and a broad and credible representation of Egypt’s opposition, civil society and political factions to begin immediately serious negotiations on a peaceful and orderly transition,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Middle East experts say the goal of creating a new transitional government is not yet in reach. The Egyptian military would have to become more assertive to “control the arena,” said Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel.

“This will require the military to undergo an overnight conversion to democracy promoters. That’s more than a stretch in the current circumstances,” Mr. Indyk said.

Administration officials are anxiously awaiting events Friday, a traditional day of protest in the Muslim world. “Friday could be a ‘Tiananmen moment,’ ” said Mr. Indyk. “If that happens, there will be no orderly and peaceful transition, just a bloody and long confrontation.”

—Jonathan Weisman contributed to this article.

Third World Thugs and Dictators- A History of Self Serving Interests

By Manzer Munir, Pakistanis for Peace

What is it about power and its hold on a person? Not just the common man, but even the most noblest and patriotic of men have let its allure defy the loyalty to their county’s best interests. They say that absolute power corrupts absolutely. The recent events in Egypt have proven this axiom quite aptly as we are witnessing history in the making with the protests against the regime of Hosni Mubarak.

There is a popular, grassroots, and mostly peaceful uprising against the repressive and longtime authoritative administration of President Hosni Mubarak. Only the fourth president in the history of the modern day republic of Egypt, Mubarak was a soldier in the Yom Kippur War against Israel and served as the Commander of the Air Force as well as the Deputy Minister of Defense.

Having served nearly 30 years, he is the only leader most people in Egypt have ever known where more than half the population is under 25. Long seen by the outside world as a model of stability in the volatile neighborhood of the Middle East, Mubarak’s policies of continuing the peace treaty with Israel signed by his predecessor Anwar Sadat, belied the fact that at home in Egypt he had employed many heavy handed and authoritarian tactics to quell dissent at various times in his 30 year rule.

But what may have appeared as strengths to the outside world were weaknesses at a domestic level. Mubarak came to be seen by the average Egyptians as presiding over policies that increased unemployment and also raised the cost of living for many already struggling people. For many, the economic reforms had come to be equated with corruption, as many political leaders were mixing  family business interests with their official roles, and corruption at the highest levels has fully become entrenched in all levels of Egyptian society, much like in many developing countries.

Another example of the measure of cronyism and despotic rule practiced in Mubarak’s Egypt that showed contempt for the democratic aspirations of the common man was his grooming of his son Gamal for eventual leadership of Egypt. It was no surprise in the international community that for the last 8 years Mubarak was exposing his son to more and more official state functions and visits, having most recently brought Gamal to Washington for the opening of Middle East peace talks in the fall of 2010.

Now in the last few weeks, after protests in another North African Arab country of Tunisia that saw the toppling of the 24 year reign of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Mubarak’s iron grip on power seems a lot less secure to Egyptians who have been bolstered by the ouster of Ali, another notoriously corrupt and dictatorial ruler of Mubarak’s ilk.

It has become common place to see time after time, in developing countries across the world, but especially in Africa and Asia, autocratic and corrupt rulers who either seize power in military coups or are initially elected in some democratic way, only to hold on to power any way they can. Whether the ruler be Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who has held power of that country since 1980 and who despite having lost even the last few rigged elections, has remained defiantly in power. One could also point to another African leader, Laurent Gbagbo of the Ivory Coast who refuses to step down from power after having lost the elections of his country in November of 2010 to Alassane Ouattara. Despite losing the election he sits in the presidential palace in the capital Yamoussoukro, still refusing to listen to the world community and even personal pleas from President Obama to relinquish power to the victor of the Ivory Coast elections, Alassane Ouattara.

An Indonesian friend mentioned to me that what is happening in Egypt is exactly how the Indonesians got rid of Suharto, who had come to power and control over Indonesia 32 years prior in large part due to his service and rank in the military.

Examples of such greed for power, money and influence as well as the disregard for the health and well being of their nations are more commonplace in the developing world than in the industrialized nations. It is not to say that in European and western countries there have not been cases of greed and corruption.  However, when the stability and very health of a country’s political system was severely tested, as in my homeland of the United States, a president like Richard Nixon resigned from power, however embarrassingly and went off quietly into history, rather than hold on to the last vestiges of power and control over a sinking country and its national spirit.

For Mubarak, the question should be asked how can this soldier of the uniform can look in the mirror the last few days knowing that every passing day that there are riots in the streets of Cairo, he is undermining the sovereignty, nationhood and the very peace of his motherland. A person like this obviously cares more about their place in history than the well being of their people, their institutions, and their country.

Sooner or later, the chants will get loud enough to be heard outside Mubarak’s residence in the presidential Heliopolis Palace and the people will undoubtedly ask: “Oh Mubarak can’t you see? Time to join Ben Ali.”

Manzer Munir is a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, who is a Sufi Muslim and is also the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at www.PakistanisforPeace.com and at other websites such as www.DigitalJournal.com, www.Allvoices.com, www.Examiner.com and www.open.salon.com as a freelance journalist and writer. He asks that you join the official Facebook Page of Pakistanis for Peace to be informed of the latest articles  here: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Pakistanis-for-Peace/141071882613054

 

Egypt Unrest

As reported by the BBC

A massive demonstration is due to be held in Cairo as protesters step up their efforts to force President Hosni Mubarak from power. Organisers say they hope one million will come onto the streets in what is expected to be the biggest show yet. A rally is also planned in Alexandria. Egypt’s powerful army has vowed it will not used force against the protesters.

Meanwhile, new Vice President Omar Suleiman says he will hold cross-party talks on constitutional reform. Mr Mubarak reshuffled his cabinet on Monday to try to head off the protests, replacing the widely despised Interior Minister Habib al-Adly.

But correspondents say that the army’s statement has been a major blow for President Mubarak, and appears to have encouraged protesters.

The BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen, in Cairo, says that the feeling that change is coming in Egypt is getting stronger. Too much has happened too quickly to go back to the way things were before, he says.

At least 100 people have been killed across the country since protests began a week ago following an internet campaign and partly inspired by the ousting of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia last month.

Egypt has since cut off internet in the country and text messaging services have been disrupted. Google announced late on Monday that it is operating a special service to allow people in Egypt to send Twitter messages by dialing a phone number and leaving a voicemail.

Some protesters defied the curfew and continued to camp out in Tahrir Square through the night, saying they will stay there until Mr Mubarak’s 30-year-long rule ends. 

The protests in Egypt are posing a policy dilemma for President Obama’s administration, which has now despatched an envoy, former US ambassador Frank Wisner, to Cairo

One of them, Tarek Shalabi, told the BBC that groups were camped out in tents or sleeping out in the square, and described the atmosphere as “overwhelming”. “We’re here because we want to make a statement. We’re not going until Mubarak steps down,” he said.

He said a stage had been set up where people could go up and make speeches, read out poetry or sing or chant political slogans. “It has a festive feel to it,” he said. We all have one thing in common. We all hate the current regime,” he said.

Another demonstrator, 45-year-old lawyer Ahmed Helmi, said: “The only thing we will accept from him is that he gets on a plane and leaves”. On Monday, the Egyptian army said it respected the “legitimate rights of the people”.

In its statement, carried on Egyptian media, the military said: “To the great people of Egypt, your armed forces, acknowledging the legitimate rights of the people… have not and will not use force against the Egyptian people.”

Our correspondent says the announcement is absolutely critical because it takes away a huge measure of uncertainty from the mind of any potential demonstrator. Whatever happens next, this will change the Middle East, our correspondent adds. In his statement, Mr Suleiman said the president had ordered new government policy to be outlined “in the next few days”.

The review would include “clear and definite policies” to tackle unemployment, poverty, corruption and the cost of living, the statement said.

There would also be new elections in some districts where there was evidence of irregularities in last November’s parliamentary poll.

Meanwhile, the US state department has despatched a special envoy to Cairo, former ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner.

Concerns have also grown about the economy, as global oil prices on Monday topped $100 (£62) a barrel amid fears of the ongoing unrest.

Egypt Protests Continue as Government Resigns

By David Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

CAIRO — Egypt was engulfed in a fifth day of protests on Saturday but an attempt by President Hosni Mubarak to salvage his 30-year rule by firing his cabinet and calling out the army appeared to backfire as troops and demonstrators fraternized and called for the president himself to resign.

While some protesters clashed with police, army tanks expected to disperse the crowds in central Cairo and in the northern city of Alexandria instead became rest points and even, on occasion, part of the protests as anti-Mubarak graffiti were scrawled on them without interference from soldiers.

“Leave Hosni, you, your son and your corrupted party!” declared the graffiti on one tank as soldiers invited demonstrators to climb aboard and have their photographs taken with them.

“This is the revolution of all the people,” declared the side of a second tank in downtown Cairo. Egyptian men all serve in the army, giving it a very different relationship to the people from that of the police.

The feared security police had largely withdrawn from central Cairo to take up positions around the presidential palace, with their places taken up by the army.

Following Mr. Mubarak’s demand in his late-night speech, the Egyptian cabinet officially resigned on Saturday. But there was no sign of letup in the tumult. Reports from morgues and hospitals suggested that at least 50 people had been killed so far.

In Ramses Square in central Cairo Saturday midday, protesters commandeered a flatbed army truck. One protester was driving the truck around the square while a dozen others on the back were chanting for President Mubarak to leave office. Nearby, soldiers relaxed around their tanks and armored vehicles and chatted with protestors. There were no policemen in sight.

In another sign that the army was showing sympathy for the demonstrations, in a different central Cairo square on Saturday a soldier in camouflage addressed a crowd through a bullhorn declaring that the army would stand with the people.

“I don’t care what happens,” the soldier said. “You are the ones who are going to make the change.” The crowd responded, “The army and the people will purify the country.”

Workers at the Alexandria morgue said they had counted more than 20 bodies from the last 24 hours of violence. Meanwhile, protests had started up again in the city. But there too, the demonstrators and the soldiers showed sympathy for one another. Demonstrators brought tea to the troops and had their pictures taken with them. Protesters walked by armored carriers unmolested with few signs of animosity. People gathered outside the morgue looking for their relatives. In the main hospital, there were a number of people lying wounded from live fire.

Cell phone service, cut off by the government on Friday, was partially restored although other elements of the communication shut down remained in force. On Friday, with much of the nation in open revolt, Mr. Mubarak deployed the nation’s military and imposed a near-total blackout on communications to save his authoritarian government of nearly 30 years.

In the early hours of Saturday, protesters continued to defy a nationwide curfew as Mr. Mubarak, 82, breaking days of silence, appeared on national television, promising to replace the ministers in his government, but calling popular protests “part of bigger plot to shake the stability” of Egypt. He refused calls, shouted by huge, angry crowds on Friday in the central squares of Cairo, the northern port of Alexandria and the canal city of Suez, for him to resign.

“I will not shy away from taking any decision that maintains the security of every Egyptian,” he vowed.

Whether his infamously efficient security apparatus and well-financed but politicized military could enforce that order — and whether it would stay loyal to him even if it came to shedding blood — was the main question for many Egyptians.

It was also a pressing concern for the White House, where President Obama called Mr. Mubarak and then, in his own Friday television appearance, urged him to take “concrete steps” toward the political and economic reform that the stalwart American ally had repeatedly failed to deliver.

Whatever the fallout from the protests — be it change that comes suddenly or unfolds over years — the upheaval at the heart of the Arab world has vast repercussions for the status quo in the region, including tolerance for secular dictators by a new generation of frustrated youth, the viability of opposition that had been kept mute or locked up for years and the orientation of regional governments toward the United States and Israel, which had long counted Egypt as its most important friend in the region.

Many regional experts were still predicting that the wily Mr. Mubarak, who has outmaneuvered domestic political rivals and Egypt’s Islamic movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, for decades, would find a way to suppress dissent and restore control. But the apparently spontaneous, nonideological and youthful protesters also posed a new kind of challenge to a state security system focused on more traditional threats from organized religious groups and terrorists.

Friday’s protests were the largest and most diverse yet, including young and old, women with Louis Vuitton bags and men in galabeyas, factory workers and film stars. All came surging out of mosques after midday prayers headed for Tahrir Square, and their clashes with the police left clouds of tear gas wafting through empty streets.

For the first time since the 1980s, Mr. Mubarak felt compelled to call the military into the streets of the major cities to restore order and enforce a national 6 p.m. curfew. He also ordered that Egypt be essentially severed from the global Internet and telecommunications systems. Even so, videos from Cairo and other major cities showed protesters openly defying the curfew and few efforts being made to enforce it.

Street battles unfolded throughout the day Friday, as hundreds of thousands of people streamed out of mosques after noon prayers on Friday in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and other cities around the country.

By nightfall, the protesters had burned down the ruling party’s headquarters in Cairo, and looters marched away with computers, briefcases and other equipment emblazoned with the party’s logo. Other groups assaulted the Interior Ministry and the state television headquarters, until after dark when the military occupied both buildings and regained control. At one point, the American Embassy came under attack.

Six Cairo police stations and several police cars were in flames, and stations in Suez and other cities were burning as well. Office equipment and police vehicles burned, and the police seemed to have retreated from Cairo’s main streets. Brigades of riot police officers deployed at mosques, bridges and intersections, and they battered the protesters with tear gas, water, rubber-coated bullets and, by day’s end, live ammunition.

With the help of five armored trucks and at least two fire trucks, more than a thousand riot police officers fought most of the day to hold the central Kasr al-Nil bridge. But, after hours of advances and retreats, by nightfall a crowd of at least twice as many protesters broke through. The Interior Ministry said nearly 900 were injured there and in the neighboring Giza area, with more than 400 hospitalized with critical injuries. State television said 13 were killed in Suez and 75 injured; a total of at least six were dead in Cairo and Giza.

The uprising here was also the biggest outbreak yet in a wave of youth-led revolts around the region since the Jan. 14 ouster of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia — a country with just half Cairo’s population of 20 million. “Tunis, Tunis, Tunis,” protesters chanted outside the Tunisian Embassy here.

“Egyptians right now are not afraid at all,” said Walid Rachid, a student taking refuge from tear gas inside a Giza mosque. “It may take time, but our goal will come, an end to this regime. I want to say to this regime: 30 years is more than enough. Our country is going down and down because of your policies.”

Mr. Mubarak, in his televised address, said he was working to open up democracy and to fight “corruption,” and he said he understood the hardships facing the Egyptian people. But, he said, “a very thin line separates freedom from chaos.”

David Kirkpatrick talks about the close call he had while with Nobel laureate, Mohamed ElBaradei, the kinds of police on the streets in Egypt and the possible prospects for the Mubarak government.
 

His offer to replace his cabinet is unlikely to be viewed as a major concession; Mr. Mubarak often changes ministers without undertaking fundamental reforms.

A crowd of young men who had gathered around car radios on a bridge in downtown Cairo to listen to the speech said they were enraged by it, saying that they had heard it before and wanted him to go. “Leave, leave,” they chanted, vowing to return to the streets the next day. “Down, down with Mubarak.”

A bonfire of office furniture from the ruling party headquarters was burning nearby, and the carcasses of police vehicles were still smoldering. The police appeared to have retreated from large parts of the city.

Protesters throughout the day on Friday spoke of the military’s eventual deployment as a foregone conclusion, given the scale of the uprising and Egyptian history. The military remains one of Egypt’s most esteemed institutions, a source of nationalist pride.

It was military officers who led the coup that toppled the British-backed monarch here in 1952, and all three Egypt’s presidents, including Mr. Mubarak, a former air force commander, have risen to power through the ranks of the military. It has historically been a decisive factor in Egyptian politics and has become a major player — a business owner — in the economy as well.

Some protesters seemed to welcome the soldiers, even expressing hopes that the military would somehow take over and potentially oust Mr. Mubarak. Others said they despaired that, unlike the relatively small and apolitical army in Tunisia, the Egyptian military was loyal first of all to its own institutions and alumni, including Mr. Mubarak.

“Will they stage a coup?” asked Hosam Sowilan, a retired general and a former director of a military research center here. “This will never happen.” He added: “The army in Tunisia put pressure on Ben Ali to leave. We are not going to do that here. The army here is loyal to this country and to the regime.”

One of the protesters leaving a mosque near Cairo was Mohamed ElBaradei, an Egyptian who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the International Atomic Energy Agency and has since emerged as a leading critic of the government.

“This is the work of a barbaric regime that is in my view doomed,” he said after being sprayed by a water cannon.

Now, he said, “it is the people versus the thugs.”

Israel Fears Unrest in Egypt Could Jeopardize Peace Treaty

By Robert Berger for The Voice of America

The unrest in Egypt is sending shock waves throughout the Middle East, including in neighboring Israel.

Israel is extremely concerned about the situation in Egypt because President Hosni Mubarak has preserved the peace treaty between the two countries for 30 years. Israel considers the treaty a strategic asset, and it fears that a regime change in Egypt could put the peace agreement in danger.

Israeli analyst Yoni Ben-Menachem says an Egyptian government led by opposition groups or the Muslim Brotherhood would take a harder line on Israel.

“It might be a hostile regime to Israel that will not respect the peace treaty with Israel and will cancel it, abolish this agreement, and we will go back to a situation of hostility between Israel and Egypt,” said Ben-Menachem.

That would complicate Israel’s situation strategically, because it already shares two borders with hostile elements: Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.  And Ben-Menachem believes neighboring Jordan could be next.

“This can create the domino effect, and this fall of the regime in Egypt can also continue to Jordan, and also with Jordan we have another peace treaty,” added Ben-Menachem.  “And if this will happen, if there will be a strategic change in the Middle East, that will not be for the benefit of the State of Israel.”

While the treaty between Egypt and Israel is often described as a “cold peace,” Ben-Menachem says Israel values its relationship with President Mubarak and sees him as a bridge between Israel and the Arab world.

Visiting Each Other’s Holy Places in North America

By Habeeb Ali for Common Ground News Service

I can see your stares! I get them every time I say we are twinning our mosques and synagogues this month. “Really?” people ask, jaws dropping.

For the third year, this exercise of interfaith exchange has progressed in good faith. Synagogues agree to twin with nearby mosques, with congregants visiting each other during Jewish Sabbath and Muslim Friday prayer services and, in some cases, inviting guest speakers or jointly carrying out a community service project like doing a Hanukkah and Eid party together.

I have personally taken students to the synagogue. One young Pakistani-born boy marveled at how cordial Jews were and how familiar the service is. One Palestinian girl at first refused to enter the synagogue but after meeting a warm female rabbi, left saying how different it was from what she’d thought.

Many people wonder about the term “Twinning” to describe the event. But the history of the Muslims genealogically is an ancestral path that leads to Ishmael, a son of Abraham, while that of the Bani Israel, the Quranic term for the Jewish people, leads to another of Abraham’s sons, Isaac.

So we’re children of two brothers – a good reminder actually – since around this time Muslims commemorate Abraham’s story during the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, on Eid al-Adha.

Twinning was initiated to encourage a better understanding between Muslims and Jews living in the West, regardless of political inclinations, with a more direct opportunity to have a dialogue about their faith traditions specifically.

In Toronto, in addition to Jewish visits to hear imams’ Friday sermons at mosques and Muslim visits to hear the Torah read in synagogues, the Noor Cultural Centre – which promotes cultural education and bridge-building in the Muslim Canadian community – has organized a weekend-long educational study conducted by Rabbi Dr. Reuven Firestone and Dr. Mahmoud Ayoub. The focus of the study is to reach out to students of both communities and discuss images of war and violence in Jews’ and Muslims’ scriptural texts.

According to Walter Ruby, the man behind the scenes at the New York-based Centre for Ethnic Understanding: “Twinning has brought together thousands of Muslims and Jews to jointly promote tolerance, understanding, education and goodwill in an effort to combat Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.”

It has grown from a mere 50 places joining hands last year in North America to more than 100 mosques and 100 synagogues in 22 countries on four continents.

Normally hosted the first weekend in November, Twinning events also take place throughout the month, providing meaningful exchanges for Muslims and Jews to understand each other’s faith – or participate in community initiatives, no matter how creative or how basic, like simply having a rabbi and an imam chat over coffee.

In Toronto, Dr. Barbara Landau plays a key role in promoting the Twinning and works to ensure such events are not limited only to November.

Landau is a friend and long-standing peace activist in Toronto among Jews and Muslims. She has participated in missions to conflict areas in the Middle East to share how Canadians can serve as role models. She has worked tirelessly with others, including her co-chair at the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims, Shahid Akhtar, since 9/11 to see that young people in our communities understand each other and work on common projects for the goodness of humanity.

“The Weekend of Twinning has time and time again shown us that Jews and Muslims can not only live together peacefully as neighbors, but also partner together to build a better community at-large,” said Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and lead organizer of the Weekend of Twinning.

And, with many more mosques and synagogues notifying her of their willingness to participate in the event, Landau is optimistic that next year’s Twinning weekend will be even bigger and better.

Righteous Among the Nations: Muslims Who Saved Jews from Holocaust

By Tim Townsend for The St. Louis Dispatch

In 2003, Norman Gershman was looking for some of the righteous.

What he found astonished the investment banker-turned-photographer, and led him toward a project now on display in a St. Louis synagogue.

The Righteous Among Nations are gentile rescuers who make up “a small minority who mustered extraordinary courage to uphold human values,” according to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum.

They are, the museum says, “the few who helped Jews in the darkest time in their history.”

Gershman’s story begins during the Holocaust and involves Albanian Muslims — villagers, peasants and farmers — who risked their lives and the lives of their families to shelter Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.

Italy invaded Albania in 1939 and occupied the country until the overthrow of Benito Mussolini in 1943. Germany then took over the Albanian occupation. Before the war, Gershman estimates from his research, only about 200 Jews lived in Albania, a country that is about 70 percent Muslim.

During the years of occupation, 10 times as many Jews streamed into Albania to escape persecution from Poland, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Greece and Italy. Gershman says it was the only country in Europe where the Jewish population grew by the end of the war.

Most of the hidden Jews either fled to Israel or back to their native countries after the war. Albania’s postwar communist regime made it impossible for the Jews who had been hidden to stay in touch with the Albanian Muslims who had provided shelter.

In 2003, New Jersey native Gershman heard hints of the story and began doing research, eventually traveling to Albania to begin interviewing those Muslims who took part and who were still alive. Gershman said it wasn’t just Muslim families who shielded Jews from the Nazis, but also Orthodox and Catholic families.

All of them were motivated by an Albanian code of honor called “besa,” a concept that can be translated into “keeping the promise,” Gershman says. The Albanian villagers were motivated to risk their lives by the simple concept of helping one’s neighbor.

“We chose to focus on the Muslims because, who ever heard of Muslims saving Jews?” Gershman said in a telephone interview from Israel, where he is at work on his next project.

Gershman’s research eventually led to an exhibit of his photographs, “Besa: A Code to Live By,” which opened recently at Congregation Temple Emanuel, and a book, Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II.

The exhibit makes the case that the Muslim Albanian villagers who sheltered Jews from deportation to concentration camps did so from a sense of religious obligation.

“Besa is a cultural idea, but for the Muslims in Albania it was ingrained in their faith as well,” Gershman said.

Ahmet Karamustafa, professor of history and religious studies at Washington University, said saving a life is a universally acknowledged Muslim value.

Protecting a life, Karamustafa said, “has always ranked at the very top of moral and legal categories articulated by legal and theological scholars in Islam.”

The exhibit has been traveling the world since 2006, opening in Yad Vashem in Israel, the United Nations in New York, and synagogues, mosques, college campuses and Holocaust museums from Turkey to El Paso, Texas.

The exhibit of 30 photographs includes one of Lime Balla, born in 1910, who told Gershman that a group of 17 Jews came from the capital city of Tirana to her village of Gjergi in 1943 during the holy month of Ramadan.

“We divided them amongst the villagers,” Balla said, according to Gershman. “We were poor. We had no dining table, but we didn’t allow them to pay for food or shelter. We grew vegetables for all to eat. For 15 months, we dressed them as farmers like us. Even the local police knew.”

David Sherman, president of Temple Emanuel, said the synagogue “decided it could be an opportunity to educate the public about this piece of history that was a model of dialogue and tolerance.”

The synagogue’s rabbi, Justin Kerber, said one of the Reform congregation’s goals with the exhibit is to combat a common depiction of the modern relationship between Jews and Muslims.

“There’s so much coverage about Muslim-Jewish strife and conflict,” Kerber said. “It’s important to tell people that’s not the whole story, and these are examples of Muslim-Jewish respect, tolerance and love. This was a good opportunity for us to be part of that conversation.”

Arabs Must Recognize Israel’s Right to Exist

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

New York – President Obama delivered his speech to the United Nations General Assembly Thursday in New York and it focused largely on his desire to see the Middle East peace process proceed ahead despite all the difficulties. 

Mr. Obama stated that he wanted it to succeed in accomplishing the peace that has eluded the Arabs and the Israelis for over 60 years. Realizing that there are many obstacles and hurdles ahead during tough negotiations for diplomats from both sides, he stated his concerns and his hopes for the road ahead.

“I hear those voices of skepticism, but I ask you to consider the alternative,” Obama said. If no peace agreement is reached, he added, “then the hard realities of demography will take hold. More blood will be shed. This Holy Land will remain a symbol of our differences, instead of our common humanity.”

“I refuse to accept that future,” he added. “And we all have a choice to make. Each of us must choose the path of peace. …We can say that this time will be different – that this time we will not let terror, or turbulence, or posturing, or petty politics stand in the way.”

“If we do, when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations – an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel,” Obama said to a loud applause by the delegates of all the countries at the United Nations.

In order for this to happen, the Arabs must first recognize Israel’s right to exist and the right of the Jewish people to claim specifically a part of the Holy Land as theirs. I know, it sounds so basic and a no- brainer. But surprisingly a large portion of the Arab world does not believe in Israel’s right to exist and specifically their right to exist in the southern Levant area which makes up the majority of the area for present day Israel. They want to ignore history and all the Biblical and historical evidence of Jewish settlement and claims to the land. They point to the migration of many Jews all over the world the last few hundred years as reason enough as to why they no longer can call Israel home.

Some Arabs demand that the Jewish homeland should be in Germany. After all, they claim, it is where so many of them were killed by Hitler and the main reason that precipitated the need to allow the Zionists of Europe and America, post World War II, to demand a home for the Jews. Why should the Palestinians pay for the crimes of the Europeans they argue?

Others have blamed the British and the Balfour Declaration when in 1917 the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, declared in a letter to Baron Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community for a need for a home for the Jews when he stated: “His Majesty’s government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

Quite simply, no other place makes any sense whatsoever. First of all, there is extensive mentioning of the land of Israel that is promised to the Jews in the Bible as well as the Hebrew texts, not to mention the Qur’an. All three identify geographic areas in present day Israel that has historically been identified as the homeland of the Jews. Jewish people do not even make up more than 1% of any country’s overall population other than in United States (2.2% of overall population), Canada (1.2% of population), France (1% of population) and Israel (75% of population). That means that for the rest of the world, each country’s Jewish population is not even one half of one percent of the overall population of that nation! Where else would the Arabs have them go? Certainly not Germany where many claim that they should be settled since that is where over 6 million of them were killed in the holocaust. The United States actually has more Jews in its boundaries than are currently residing in all of Israel. So they cannot very well say that they should go there as over half the population already lives here.

Most people do not realize that the Jewish population of the world is very small compared to Christianity or Islam. There are an estimated 15 million Jews around the world including in Israel. By comparison, there are over 2.1 billion Christians and nearly 1.5 billion Muslims. Nearly 105 countries of the world are majority Christian nations while there are perhaps at best 55 majority Muslim countries on the planet. Did you ever wonder how many majority Jewish countries of the world are there?  There is just one. Israel.

This is one of the great religions of the world and also one of the oldest monotheistic beliefs aside from Zoroastrianism, and came at a time when polytheistic beliefs were more prevalent as a human concept of divinity. No doubt, both Christianity and Islam owe a great deal of their religious thoughts and laws to the early Hebrew laws and traditions. In fact, large parts of both the Bible and the Qur’an constitute the Old Testament, also known as the Torah, the Jewish holy book and the scriptures revealed to Moses.

Jewish contributions to humanity have been disproportionate and staggering when one realizes that as less than one half of one percent of the world’s populations, the Jews have made immense advances in nearly every field that has benefitted the whole world. We can go from Albert Einstein’s advances in physics to Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine, discuss Galileo’s contributions in astronomy to Freud’s understanding of the mind. We could illustrate how Baruch Spinoza’s rationalist ideas and philosophies laid the groundwork for The Enlightenment of the 18 century or marvel at the brilliant filmmaking of 21st century Jews like Steven Spielberg and Oliver Stone. The list of Jewish contributions and the value of their culture to man’s history cannot be ignored.

What also cannot be ignored is that historically these are a persecuted people. The troubles that they faced in ancient Egypt as illustrated in the Bible as well as the deaths and expulsions during the Spanish Inquisition are part of their sad history. They faced persecution at the hands of both Christians and Muslims during the Crusades and at the time of the Papal States as well as during Muslim rule when they were subjected to the jizya (a per capita tax imposed on free adult non-Muslim males). The worst crimes nonetheless happened in the 20th century leading up to World War II when millions were killed in the Holocaust in Germany by Hitler’s Nazism and by Stalinist Russia.

So as the Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the other Arab countries, sit down over the next couple of weeks to resolve once and for all the Middle East conflict, the Arab street and indeed the entire Muslim world, must come to a realization and acceptance of the fact that the state of Israel has a right to exist; and has a right to exist in this ancient land as much as the Palestinians, who also have the rights to parts of this holy soil that is so important to all three religions. No doubt, historically and Biblically, the Palestinians can make similar claims also. Except, in Israel’s case, there is no other nation for the Jews, whereas, there are 55 others for Muslims. It is only with this undeniable understanding that true and lasting peace will ever be achieved and it can clear the way for a two state solution that President Obama envisions and one that will allow the normalization of relations between Israel, the Arab and the entire Muslim world. 

As perhaps the most famous Jew of all time, Jesus, once said, “Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity and may peace be with you.” Indeed, Shalom and Salaam equal peace and that can finally be achieved once there is mutual respect and acceptance of the right of the other to exist.

-Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, looks forward to a day when there will be peace between Israel and all the Muslim countries of the world, including Pakistan. He is the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at www.PakistanisforPeace.com as well at other websites as a free lance journalist and writer.

U.S. Walks Out as Iran Leader Speaks

By Neil MacFarquhar for The New York Times

UNITED NATIONS — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran made a series of incendiary remarks in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, notably the claim that the United States orchestrated the Sept. 11 attacks to rescue its declining economy, to reassert its weakening grip on the Middle East and to save Israel.

Those comments prompted at least 33 delegations to walk out, including the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Costa Rica, all 27 members of the European Union and the union’s representative, diplomats said.

The annual General Assembly started formally on Thursday, with scores of presidents, kings and ministers expected to address the gathering over the coming week. The speeches often fail to break new ground or lack electricity, so the occasional theatrics inevitably attract considerable attention.

Mr. Ahmadinejad rarely disappoints on that scale, although he seemed to go out of his way to sabotage any comments he made previously this week about Iran’s readiness for dialogue with the United States. The theme of his often flowery speech was that the capitalist world order was collapsing and he cited three examples: the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, and the pressure on Iran over its nuclear program.

He said there were three theories about the origins of the Sept. 11 attacks, including “that some segments within the U.S. government orchestrated the attack to reverse the declining American economy and its grips on the Middle East in order also to save the Zionist regime.”

The United States Mission to the United Nations swiftly issued a terse response. “Rather than representing the aspirations and goodwill of the Iranian people, Mr. Ahmadinejad has yet again chosen to spout vile conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic slurs that are as abhorrent and delusional as they are predictable,” it said in a statement.

It was not the first time Mr. Ahmadinejad espoused the theory, but never before so publicly. “The majority of the American people as well as other nations and politicians agree with this view,” he said.

Mr. Ahmadinejad obviously delights in being provocative during his annual visit to the United Nations. He framed his comments about Sept. 11 as an examination of opinions, an approach he has used repeatedly in questioning the Holocaust.

But his assertion that the majority of Americans agree with him surely lacked any factual basis. As did his claim that reviving the American economy was the motive behind the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon; the United States economy declined significantly after the attacks. In his interviews with journalists, much like during his debates with opponents in the disputed Iranian presidential election last year, Mr. Ahmadinejad has often been accused of making up statements wholesale.

But analysts noted that his remarks should be viewed through the prism of domestic politics in Iran, where conservatives try to outflank him. They said that during a recent Friday prayer sermon, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said that 84 percent of Americans believed their own government was behind the attacks.

Iran also cultivates an image as the voice of all Muslims in confronting the United States, and the idea that Americans rather than Islamic extremists carried out the 2001 attacks has long resonated among Arabs. “This is very helpful to Ahmadinejad’s desire for greatness in the Arab world,” said Ali Mirsepassi, a professor of Middle Eastern studies and sociology at New York University.

The other two theories on the attacks presented by Mr. Ahmadinejad were that terrorists who penetrated American security were responsible, and that terrorists carried out the attacks but then the American government took advantage of the situation. He even suggested that the United Nations create a fact-finding panel to study the theories.

Farideh Farhi, an Iran expert at the University of Hawaii, said, “Apparently now he has decided that by going to the core of American sensitivities — in the same way he did with Israel by questioning the legitimacy of that country’s existence — he can continue to keep himself at the center of global attention while deflecting attention away from his dismal domestic record.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad also lambasted those Americans who had threatened to burn the Koran. “The truth could not be burned,” he said, hefting a green Koran aloft with his one hand and a black Bible with another, saying he respected both of them. “We should wisely avoid playing into the hands of Satan.”

The other speeches Thursday followed more traditional lines, although not without moments of passion.

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China focused his speech exclusively on China’s domestic accomplishments, with a brief global reference at the end when he suggested a vital, peaceful China was good for the world’s peace and prosperity.

The speech, entitled “Getting to Know the Real China,” lauded the country’s economic progress while recognizing that it had a way to go with 150 million people still living in poverty. Mr. Wen said China was determined to forge even greater progress through education, science and technology.

The Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, endorsed American efforts to negotiate peace in the Middle East, but criticized Israel both for its presumed nuclear arsenal and for attacking a Turkish-organized humanitarian convoy at sea in May during which nine people were killed.

“We hope that this new engagement can take us closer to a viable and fair settlement,” Mr. Gul said. “On the other hand, it would be very difficult to make progress toward permanent peace unless we put an end to the humanitarian tragedy in Gaza.”

Mr. Gul called the attack a violation of international law, and he welcomed a report released Wednesday by United Nations Human Rights Council, which endorsed that viewpoint.President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi, speaking on behalf of the African Union, urged the General Assembly to defer for one year the war crimes charges brought by the International Criminal Court against President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan. He said that would avoid jeopardizing the outcome of a referendum scheduled for January on independence for southern Sudan.

Give White House Credit for Mideast Peace Efforts

By Peter A Joseph for The Huffington Post

Skeptics have had a field day criticizing the direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians to be launched this week in Washington. To be sure, the obstacles to concluding an agreement are significant, the stakes are high and expectations are low.

But it is time to give the Obama Administration some credit. The White House is launching direct talks on Thursday with tools that previous administrations did not have or were unwilling to employ in past negotiation efforts. Despite the rampant skepticism, there are indeed reasons to be hopeful without being naïve.

The Obama Administration has come a long way to get to this point. The year-long tussle with Israel over West Bank settlement construction, a botched photo-op between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership in New York one year ago, and painstaking attempts to bring the parties to direct talks in recent months have eroded the optimism and expectations that came with the election of President Obama.

However, there are a number of essential ingredients that the Administration has got right as it launches direct talks. Martin Indyk mentioned four of them last week in the New York Times: 1) there is very little violence between the parties today; 2) settlement activity has been limited; 3) the majority on both sides support a two-state solution; and 4) the contours of an agreement are largely already known. Here are four more:

First, violence is down because security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians is at an all-time high. Palestinian security forces trained with the direct support and supervision of the United States, Israel and Jordan have significantly secured the West Bank and created an atmosphere conducive to economic growth. The success of the burgeoning Palestinian security force is providing Israelis with much needed confidence. Security is – and always has been – Israel’s number one concern. With such cooperation already in place, these talks will have a distinct advantage over all other previous efforts.

Second, the Arab states have endorsed President Mahmoud Abbas’ negotiating with Israel and pledged to be part of the effort. The inclusion of Egypt and Jordan in the launch next week is vital. As co-chairs of the Arab League’s Arab Peace Initiative follow-up committee, Egypt and Jordan bring with them the promise of normal relations for Israel with 22 Arab states following a successfully negotiated agreement on the final status issues.

Regardless of whether Yasser Arafat truly intended to achieve peace with Israel, he never enjoyed the mobilized support of the Arab states, let alone the United States and Israel. Mahmoud Abbas does. The Arab states are providing Abbas with the kind of backing and legitimacy to negotiate with Israel on all of the sensitive final status issues that he will need in order to conclude a historic agreement. This is particularly significant given the political split of the Palestinians between the West Bank and Gaza.

Third, the Palestinians are invested in building the foundation for a Palestinian state. The Palestinians have been plagued in previous negotiation efforts by poor governance and widespread corruption. While concerning issues remain, the progress of Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad to establish the infrastructure for a future state – like the aforementioned security advancements – distinguishes these negotiations from previous ones. The success of the state-building effort to this point and the growth of the West Bank economy lends credibility to the moderate leadership of Abbas and Fayyad and their ability to govern a viable, contiguous state, should the political process enable one to be established. Their efforts should also give Israelis added confidence that they would be establishing a conflict-ending agreement with a responsible neighbor.

Fourth, the Netanyahu government has been calling for negotiations for months, repeatedly stating that an agreement could be reached quickly if negotiated in good faith. The Administration now has a chance to test them on their word.

The make-up of the Israeli government presents both a challenge and an advantage to the renewed talks. The fact that this is a largely right-wing government intended to provide Israel with essential guarantees on security could bolster confidence among the Israeli public for an agreement, should one be achieved. This would remain true even if the government were at some point to replace Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party with Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party. Just as the Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin secured a peace agreement with Egypt, so too might the current Likud Prime Minister secure the elusive peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Finally, the White House has pledged to be actively engaged and bridge the gaps when necessary. The failed Annapolis process proved that Israelis and Palestinians need the United States to be at the negotiating table in order to help the parties bridge the gaps.

Active engagement by the United States does not just require bridging proposals, but also reminding the parties of the interests at stake. To Israelis, concluding an agreement with the Palestinians would certainly help amplify efforts to mobilize the international community to counter the threat from Iran. To Palestinians, a viable and secure state can only come about through negotiations.

However, even with these various important ingredients in place, there remains a missing one that is vital to the success of direct talks: trust. Without trust between the parties – or in the United States’ leadership – the current effort will undoubtedly fail. Building this trust, beginning with navigating the parties past the September 26th deadline of Israel’s settlement moratorium, is clearly the United States’ most pressing challenge in the weeks ahead. But the foundation to succeed in doing so is beginning to be put into place. The Administration deserves some credit for laying it.

- Peter A Joseph is the president of the Israel Policy Forum

Clinton Adds to Curious History of Mango Diplomacy

By Sebastian Abbot for The Associated Press

When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton offered Pakistan help last week in exporting mangoes to the U.S. in a bid to dampen anti-American sentiment, it marked the latest chapter in the fruit’s curious history of diplomacy and intrigue.

Clinton’s offer came three years after the Bush administration opened up the U.S. market to Indian mangoes in exchange for allowing Harley-Davidson to sell its famed motorcycles in India - a deal that generated goodwill as the two countries finalized a civilian nuclear agreement.

Washington’s mango-powered diplomacy this time around is part of a broader $7.5 billion aid effort that is meant to improve the image of the U.S. in Pakistan, a move officials hope will provide the Pakistani government with greater room to cooperate on turning around the war in Afghanistan.

“I have personally vouched for Pakistani mangoes, which are delicious, and I’m looking forward to seeing Americans be able to enjoy those in the coming months,” Clinton said during her visit to Islamabad last week.

The prominence of mangoes in South Asian diplomacy should come as no surprise since scientists believe the sweet and fleshy orange fruit originated in the region before Buddhist monks and Persian traders introduced the plant to other areas of the world.

Pakistan and India recognize the mango as their national fruit, and summer in both countries is defined by the sights and sounds of vendors hawking piles of soft, sweet-smelling mangoes or pureeing them to create refreshing drinks that cut through the scorching heat.

Officials from both countries have exchanged crates of mangoes over the years in an attempt to soften tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals that have fought three wars since the partition of British India created the two nations a little over 60 years ago.

Former Pakistani President Zia ul-Haq may have begun the tradition when he swapped mangoes in the early 1980s with the Indian prime minister at the time, Indira Gandhi. The exchange took place several years before ul-Haq was killed in a plane crash that conspiracy theorists blame on a crate of mangoes placed on board moments before takeoff that was supposedly sprayed with a poisonous gas that killed the pilots and other passengers.

But like almost everything else, mangoes have also been a source of tension between Pakistan and India since the two countries view each other as competitors in the export market. Indians and Pakistanis argue over who grows the best mangoes – a debate that resembles the tussle between Lebanon and Israel over who can claim the mashed chickpea dish hummus as their own.

If all goes to plan, Americans will get a chance to conduct their own taste test once Pakistani mangoes break into the U.S. market. The U.S. plans trial shipments later this year and has pledged to support a three-year program to promote the export of Pakistani mangoes by sea to America, the world’s largest importer of the fruit. The initiative is part of a $21 million program to boost Pakistan’s agriculture. The U.S. will help finance hot water treatment facilities, sorting and grading machines and cold storage facilities.

India, meanwhile, is the world’s largest mango producer with about 13 million tons each year, far exceeding all other countries, including Pakistan, which comes in fifth place with about 1.6 million tons. But both countries have struggled to build the necessary infrastructure to really boost exports.

“Farmers are very grateful for the U.S. help,” said Muzaffar Khan Khakwani, the owner of a mango farm near the central Pakistani city of Multan that is benefiting from American aid. “It’s not just the financial help. It’s the capacity building and the exposure of farmers to well managed orchards.”

But it remains to be seen how quickly Pakistan can benefit from Clinton’s recently announced initiative. India had trouble with logistics and pricing when it first tried to export its mangoes to the U.S.

It is even more uncertain whether U.S. aid will really dent anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and motivate the government to step up support for the Afghan war, a move the Pakistanis have resisted for years.

As an Indian proverb says, “You can’t hurry a mango tree to ripen its fruit.”

 

Arab Guilty of Rape After Consensual Sex with Jew

By Jo Adetunji and Harriet Sherwood for The Guardian

A Palestinian man has been convicted of rape after having consensual sex with a woman who had believed him to be a fellow Jew.

Sabbar Kashur, 30, was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Monday after the court ruled that he was guilty of rape by deception. According to the complaint filed by the woman with the Jerusalem district court, the two met in downtown Jerusalem in September 2008 where Kashur, an Arab from East Jerusalem, introduced himself as a Jewish bachelor seeking a serious relationship. The two then had consensual sex in a nearby building before Kashur left.

When she later found out that he was not Jewish but an Arab, she filed a criminal complaint for rape and indecent assault.

Although Kashur was initially charged with rape and indecent assault, this was changed to a charge of rape by deception as part of a plea bargain arrangement.

Handing down the verdict, Tzvi Segal, one of three judges on the case, acknowledged that sex had been consensual but said that although not “a classical rape by force,” the woman would not have consented if she had not believed Kashur was Jewish.

The sex therefore was obtained under false pretences, the judges said. “If she hadn’t thought the accused was a Jewish bachelor interested in a serious romantic relationship, she would not have cooperated,” they added.

The court ruled that Kashur should receive a jail term and rejected the option of a six-month community service order. He was said to be seeking to appeal.

Segal said: “The court is obliged to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price – the sanctity of their bodies and souls. When the very basis of trust between human beings drops, especially when the matters at hand are so intimate, sensitive and fateful, the court is required to stand firmly at the side of the victims – actual and potential – to protect their wellbeing. Otherwise, they will be used, manipulated and misled, while paying only a tolerable and symbolic price.”

Gideon Levy, a liberal Israeli commentator, was quoted as saying: “I would like to raise only one question with the judge. What if this guy had been a Jew who pretended to be a Muslim and had sex with a Muslim woman?

“Would he have been convicted of rape? The answer is: of course not.”

Arabs constitute about 20% of Israel’s population, but relationships between Jews and Arabs are rare. There are few mixed neighbourhoods or towns, and Arabs suffer routine discrimination.

Israeli MPs are considering a law requiring prospective Israeli citizens to declare loyalty to Israel as a “Jewish, democratic state”. Many Arabs would balk at swearing allegiance to a state which they see as explicitly excluding or marginalising them.

Dan Meridor, a deputy prime minister in Binyamin Netanyahu’s government, is opposed to the proposal. “Why does every bill need the word ‘Jewish’ in it – to show the Arab citizens that it doesn’t belong to them? Then we’re all shocked when they radicalise their stance.

“The majority doesn’t need to remind the minority that it is in fact a minority all the time,” he added.

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